trim.YxL2EyA successful day on the courts is when you play well and win, especially when challenged by good players who are playing well too. Today was a successful day for me.
I felt the same calm getting up in the morning that I have been feeling in competition all year. In fact I have been feeling it since I returned to playing after my hip surgeries. I have been living many parts of my tennis mission when I go out to play. I am calm, accepting, and can feel comfortable with my results as long as I have played up to my level. It is such a feeling of serenity. Amazing how it leads to great results.
Jo Ann and I had a nice breakfast and, then, as we do nearly every morning, found a sunny place to meditate. Somehow I hardly feel as if I am in any sort of pressure situation even though National finals are, unquestionably loaded with pressure. At least that is the case if that is the way they are perceived. To me, these matches feel like going out to play with a buddy for practice and fun. The experience is just not loaded. I suppose that could change but right now that is my story and I am sticking with it.
In the singles I played the #3 seed, Norm Chryst. He is the 7th ranked player in the USA and he has a big game. Big serve. Big overhead. Big returns. I wanted to get a quick start against his serve making returns right away to send him a message that his serve games were going to be a battle. That was my plan. Unfortunately I missed three returns and a routine forehand. Quick game. No points. When switching sides, Norm, who is a nice guy, made a comment that “that wasn’t a very good start.” I ignored him as I do all conversations with my opponents. I have game face on from start to finish. I then proceeded to drop the first two points on my serve game. This is not good. Six points in a row and trouble on my own serve on the grass. I went for a courageous serve out wide to his forehand and aced him. Made another good serve and I was on my way, holding serve. He played another good game but I could feel my focus coming together. I played each point as if it were a match, taking a page from Nadal. I broke him twice and won the first set 6-2. The second set was similar and the result the same. 6-2. It was one of the cleanest matches I have ever played in a big situation. My focus was deep and continuous. My tempo between points was consistent. My deep breaths were there before each point. I stayed in the present. I accepted errors as they are part of the game. Into the finals and playing for the National Championship tomorrow morning
Went for some lunch during the 1 1/2 hour break before the finals of the doubles. Having Jo Ann with me at a tournament is a gift. She is so steadying and has, in the two years she has watched me play, developed great skills as my personal coach, helping to keep my mind in a good spot. Her enthusiasm and support for me is a weapon that gives me a big advantage over players who travel alone and have no one taking care of them.
When Charlie and I met up on Monday he informed me that he was on a National Championship streak. He had won at least one National title every year since 1990 and that this event was his last of the year and he had yet to win one in 2013. Well, that wasn’t going to change my mission. If I live the story that I have written for myself I will have the best chance to play well and, in turn, the best chance to win.
As I wrote yesterday, this match involved some of the most successful senior doubles players in the world and it was tense out there on the court. We broke their serve to go up 4-2 and they broke right back. I was feeling more pressure than I had felt over the last two years. It wasn’t about the streak. It is just doubles. There is a responsibility to my partner to make shots when they are there. The pressure was contributing to me playing tight, feeling self critical for misses and being defensive.
We were leading 5-4 with Neal Newman serving and Charlie was playing amazing. We got to set point four times, each time with me receiving Neal’s serve. Missed return by me three times. Before the fourth time I told myself a better story. I am a player who, when I perceive pressure plays freely, takes risk and is assertive. Bang, a formidable service return followed by a strong forehand through the middle. First set to us 6-4. We really started to roll and went up 3-1 in the second set. I had a shaky service game as I future tripped about the score, thinking that if we just hold serve throughout we will win the whole thing. Counterproductive thinking as I double faulted twice in a row. Break point and a missed first serve. Again I challenged myself to be aggressive even though I was feeling nervous. Success as a I hit a good second serve and made a tough volley. Two more points and we were up 4-1. We closed it out with a team effort service break, 6-2.
National Champions!!!!! This was my 16th National title. I was blessed to win this one with such an extraordinary partner. Charlie and I meshed so well. Today, when I was down he was up. When he was down I was up. And when we needed it we both played well at the same time. We celebrated the continuation of his streak. I also had a feeling of satisfaction of having climbed all the way back to win my first National since 2008.
Tomorrow a chance for a double. It is rare to make it to the finals of the singles and doubles. It is a small group who have managed it. Often people tell themselves “I have made it to the finals. I want to enjoy the experience. No matter what happens I am fortunate to be there.” I think this is a story that defends them against potential disappointment. My story is “I am happy to be playing the finals and I want to win. I will go for it and give it everything I have.” I am pleased that I have gotten to a place in competition where I am not afraid to say that I want to win.